Runners are very happy to see the town of Miquelon come into sight at the end
of the 25-km race. — Submitted photo
Is there any race more memorable than the first marathon? And is any race history more compelling than that of Pheidippides, the courier who ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver a victory message before dropping dead?
As a matter of fact, I think there is a modern race with an equally fascinating history. And although the distance is 25 kilometres and the country is France, for Newfoundlanders this race happens to be very close to home.
It’s called the 25 km de Miquelon.
Here’s its story.
In the early 1980s, Gérard Grignon, the French politician representing St-Pierre-Miquelon in Paris, was director of the Cultural Centre and also an actor with the affiliated theatre which was going to present a show in Miquelon.
But there was no boat to Miquelon from St-Pierre. The whole group had to go to Langlade and then make their way to Miquelon by road.
Grignon, who was a runner, decided to run the 25 kilometres from Langlade across the sandbar to Miquelon. As he ran along the packed sand road, he looked around at magnificent sand dunes to his left and the North Atlantic to his right, and vowed to introduce others to the path where horses run wild and nesting Arctic terns sometimes dive bomb human heads.
Fortunately, Grignon didn’t suffer the same fate as Pheidippides, and in 1984 he invited 127 runners to come to Langlade to run the first official
25 km de Miquelon. Ten years ago, in 2003, I ran the famous 25-km race and was delighted that Grignon placed my finisher’s medal around my neck.
Time wise, I didn’t do well in the race, but it didn’t matter. The course was hotter and hillier than I expected and when the packed sand turned to asphalt, my legs turned to lead. So my time suffered, but my spirits did not. For this is a race — and a party — you remember for a long time.
Where else can you finish competing, shower and then head to a tent to listen to live music and help eat 150 legs of lamb that have been roasting since morning?
Where else do volunteers peel 200 kg of potatoes to feed the hungry runners and spectators?
Maybe that’s why Jacques Palanchier has run the
25 km annually since 1984.
The year I ran, 639 runners signed up, including many from far away. The population of Miquelon is only 700, so it’s a major event to have so many runners in town. This year, 300-400 are expected to run.
The race has a late start of 1 p.m. to allow those runners staying in St-Pierre time to make it over to Langlade for the start. Back in 2003, I watched a packed Zodiac slow down near shore, allowing 17 runners to jump out in the water. They waddled ashore near the start line in Langlade, and took a look at the sand dunes with wide eyes as if wondering what they had got themselves into.
This year, there’s no need to take a Zodiac because the ferry company has added two direct ferries; one from Fortune to Miquelon on the Friday and the second from Miquelon to Fortune on the Sunday (see schedule).
This pleases St. John’s runner Heather Barrett, who is heading to Miquelon on June 21 for her first
“It’s been an adventure sorting out the logistics of the weekend,” says Barrett. “It’s pretty cryptic. I couldn’t find the registration form on the website, but a friend sent it to me along with a copy of the letter I had to get signed by my doctor stating I was fit to run the race.”
Once Barrett’s registration was in, she had to work on finding a place to stay. Because all the hotels have been booked up for a long time, she was delighted to learn the race committee has 80 cots set up in a community centre in Miquelon.
“I only have to bring my sleeping bag,” says Barrett. “Plus the two nights are free with registration. You can’t beat that.”
When the ferry arrives in Miquelon, a welcoming committee will meet runners and transport them to the community centre where they’ll sleep.
Barrett still hasn’t figured out where to eat the night before the race. If she were staying in St-Pierre, there wouldn’t be a problem as there are plenty of restaurants. Miquelon has three to feed the pre-race hordes.
“I’ll bring peanut butter sandwiches if I have to,” she said, as there’s no kitchen in the community centre to prepare pasta if the restaurants are bursting with hungry runners.
As for her time, she’s not out to break records, like Marie Decker did the year I ran. In 1983 Decker shattered the women’s record in a time of 1:42:03 (the record has since been broken by Caroline MacIlroy in 2008 at 1:41:57). The men’s record of 1:22:41, held by Claudio Arthur, has not been broken in 19 years.
But who knows? This may be the year for records to fall.
Susan Flanagan is a runner who jumped in the fountain in Miquelon to cool down at the end of the race.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.